The number of veterans experiencing homelessness increased in 2020 even before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic damaged employment prospects and financial resources for the community, according to a new report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday.

The increase is a concerning backslide from improvements in the last decade, since then President Barack Obama announced a federal effort to address the issue.

From 2010 to 2019, the number of veterans without stable housing decreased by more than 50 percent. However, the figure increased slightly in 2020, rising to 37,252 in HUD’s annual point-in-time estimate, up by a few hundred individuals.

The totals mean that of every 10,000 veterans in the United States, 21 were experiencing homelessness at the start of last year. Veterans make up about 6 percent of the population of the United States but 8 percent of the country’s homeless population.

The estimate released Thursday is based on surveys conducted in January 2020, about two months before business closures and other financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic began.

In a statement, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge called the results “very troubling, even before you consider what COVID-19 has done to make the homelessness crisis worse.”

Officials won’t know the full impact of the pandemic on the number of veterans experiencing homelessness until later this year, when the results of the January 2021 point-in-time count are released. The 2020 numbers were scheduled to be unveiled last fall, but were kept hidden for months by President Donald Trump’s administration for unspecified reasons.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said the newly-released numbers indicate that more needs to be done to help veterans facing crisis that could lead to homelessness.

“Even a slight pre-pandemic uptick in veteran homelessness after significant declines since 2010 is extremely concerning,” he said. “The Biden Administration’s recommitment to Housing First — a proven strategy and dignified way to help Veterans and others achieve stable, permanent housing — will help accelerate progress in preventing and eliminating veteran homelessness.”

Across all groups, the number of Americans experiencing homelessness increased about 2.2 percent from 2019 to 2020. HUD estimates about 580,000 individuals were without stable housing as of January 2020.

More than 90 percent of veterans experiencing homelessness were men, according to the HUD survey. Black veterans made up about one-third of all veterans dealing with unstable housing, even though they make up just 12 percent of the total veterans population in America.

California alone accounted for nearly one-third of all of the veterans experiencing homelessness in America, with 11,401. California, Florida, Texas and Washington — four states with the highest total number of veterans among their residents — together had about 70 percent of all of the homeless veterans in American.

The HUD report notes that 28 states actually saw decreases in their total number of veterans experiencing homelessness, a positive trend. North Carolina, Oregon and Utah all saw double-digit percentage decreases in their homeless veterans population.

Officials from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said that any increase in veteran homelessness should be “unacceptable.”

“People across the country are suffering due to (the pandemic’s) economic fallout, making it much more critical to work diligently to ensure veterans can access housing as we continue our mission to end veteran homelessness,” they said in a statement. “We are also hopeful that having new national leadership in place that has prioritized ending homelessness and focusing on racial equity and building a system of care that works for all veterans will also have a positive effect.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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